Thursday, 27 November 2014

London: Day 4

Day 4 was going to be a shocker weather wise—making the umbrella a timely purchase—so we decided to make it museum day. We had three museums that we’d like to see, but it looked as though we would only make two, so we decided first to visit the Natural History Museum.

It was a bit of a convoluted tube ride there, and the weather was absolutely hopeless, so the day didn’t start well. Somewhat bizarrely, out the front of the museum they had an ice skating rink. With the genuine desire not to kill myself ice skating, we decided not to go ice skating. The weather had put a couple of inches of water onto the ice as well, which made watching those already skating look quite ridiculous/hilarious.

The line was relatively long, though it gave us an opportunity to take some touristy photos as well as to appreciate the architecture of the building. The building itself was absolutely beautiful, so we were excited about what would be inside.

Once we entered, we realised that the day was going to be a hectic one. There were people everywhere. In particular, there were a stack of children—which is never a good thing. Personally, I was there to see an exhibit on Human Evolution. I had read in Cosmos a couple of months previously that the museum had updated its exhibition, in particular, with the inclusion of some realistic models of human ancestors, such as of Neanderthals. Most of the morning was spent looking for the exhibit, whilst having a squiz at some dinosaur bones and various other exhibits. A particular low light was the mammal exhibit, which included a plethora of poorly kept stuffed animals. Everything had faded considerably as a result of the lights in the cabinets that kept the animals.

When I found Wifi, I discovered that they had closed the exhibit. This was a particularly disappointing moment for me, as it was one of the things that I was looking forward to most on the trip. The particular issue of Cosmos that included the article about the NHM’s new exhibit was fantastic and I found the prospect of seeing the exhibit thrilling.

Before leaving, we decided to have a quick look at a few different things. There was the base of a gigantic tree, which was pretty amazing, as well as a statue of Charles Darwin, which currently features in my profile picture on Facebook. In their rare collections, we also found a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species, which, for some reason, evoked a real sense of awe in me. It’s no secret that I believe that Charles Darwin is the most significant biologist ever to have lived, so seeing the original work that fuelled his fame was a special moment.

The dinosaur exhibit was our last stop. Some of the stuff was genuinely interesting, though the exhibit itself was far too crowded, with the bones presented in a relatively poor way. It was a poor way to finish what was a relatively disappointing visit to the Natural History Museum. Indeed, overall, it was actually quite a poor museum. With the architecture aside, I really didn’t feel as though it were much better than the Melbourne museum, for instance, and this is in spite of the fact that this was the Natural History Museum of worldwide fame. Perhaps a visit to the Smithsonian in the US is in order to make up for it.

We had spent far too long in the NHM, so we had to hot tail it along to the British Museum next, deciding to give the Science Museum a miss. This turned out to be a good decision, as the British Museum presented itself as absolutely bloody fantastic.

Without much time, we started a frantic look, in a frankly gigantic museum, for the Rosetta stone. This led us through the Egyptology department, which is replete with artefacts from Ancient Egypt, ranging from ornate jewellery to beautifully decorated coffins for dead pharaohs. That such art has managed to survive for so long was truly incredible. I had already had the privilege of seeing some of the British Museum’s collection in person when I was in Brisbane for PESA, but seeing it all together again was absolutely breath taking.

Eventually, Tara decided to ask one of the guards where the Rosetta stone was. Naturally, we were nowhere near it, so we made our way over pretty quick smart. It was absolutely breath taking. For some reason, I have always found the Rosetta stone fascinating. Sure, the stone itself is pretty, but its significance makes it even better. It was the key that really opened up the world of Ancient Egypt. Personally, I find it really interesting that we manage to learn so much about dead languages that have not been spoken for more than 1000 years; the Rosetta stone is a nice way of explaining how studying them goes.

With the Rosetta stone looked at and worthless merchandise purchased, we next looked at the department of Ancient Greece and Rome. The sculptures there were truly breathtaking. That an ancient society could construct such beautiful artefacts with their bare hands is something I really do find difficult to comprehend. This feeling was fairly constant for my whole visit to the museum. Even after Ancient Greece and Rome, when we started to have a look at Medieval England, I still couldn’t believe that an ancient civilisation, without all the tools we had today, could produce such beautiful things.

It was an incredible excursion to the British Museum and I doubt it is something that I will forget in my life. I’m not entirely sure why, as a Biology student with a useless knowledge of history, I found it so wonderful. Perhaps it was because I really don’t understand it, because I have so little knowledge of what I was looking at that I could properly appreciate its beauty. I don’t really know and don’t really care; all I know is that it was incredible there.

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